Plight of Street Children in Focus at Meeting

Data Say Up to 150 Million Minors Are Involved

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VATICAN CITY, OCT. 26, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Barriers between parents and offspring must fall if the world’s street children are to return home and undertake their education, says a Vatican official.

«There are destabilizing family elements — death, divorce, second marriages, conflicts, tension — and the factors of the disintegration of street children with the family,» said Archbishop Agostino Marchetto, when explaining the reasons for the problem.

The comment by the secretary of the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers came amid an international meeting on the pastoral care of street children. It was the first such meeting organized by the pontifical council.

«According to a report of Amnesty International, street children number 100 million — 150 million, according to the International Labor Organization — in the cities of the Southern Hemisphere,» Archbishop Marchetto told Vatican Radio.

About 45 million of these minors are in Latin America, 10 million in Africa and 40 million in Asia, he said. «Europe too knows this phenomenon, especially the countries of the East.»

The children range in age from 5 to 18 and are the first victims of family breakups, sprawling urbanization, migration and numerous wars, officials said at the meeting. The event brought together 40 participants from Europe, Bolivia, Peru, the Philippines, India and Brazil.

Cardinal Stephen Hamao, president of the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers, opened the two-day meeting Monday in the Vatican.

«Our objective is to give visibility to all the private and institutional efforts, associations and nongovernmental organizations, to the volunteers and groups committed to helping each and every marginalized child,» he said.

Archbishop Marchetto indicated that it is important to understand why children end up on the streets, in order to find a pastoral solution to the problem.

«A response could be to embrace a child or group of children in an educative, social and formative dimension for their reintegration,» he said.

But the acceptance of these children is «a key problem,» the archbishop acknowledged.

He distinguished between «children of the street» and «children in the street.» Three of the latter return home for every one of the former, he said.

Those who pose a risk to the youngsters include drug traffickers, Western tourists in search of easy sex, and trackers of «fresh flesh for the organs market,» Archbishop Marchetto said.

Some of these circumstances lead the minors to break the law and to end up in jail, he said.

«Surely, what is needed here is a preventive endeavor of asylum,» as well as of support «for those who are in prison,» the prelate added.

Addressing the participants, Archbishop Marchetto explained that the street is like a «stepmother»: At the beginning she seems like «an island of salvation» for the children.

The experience, he said, is lived like a game or the «setting of a wonderful adventure that can give pleasure, and free one from the repeated view of the ill-treated mother, hungry brothers, violence and humiliation.»

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